Okra, also known as Lady’s finger or Gumbo is a very popular vegetable used all over the world. It is considered to be a health food because of the presence of high amounts of fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, and various other vitamins and minerals. It is grown in the warm temperate and tropical regions throughout the world for its pods that are fibrous and dense in nutrients. Okra is a highly versatile vegetable and is often enjoyed both as a main dish or side dish. When cut, it gives out sticky mucilage, which is often used as a thickening agent in stews, soups and gumbos.
Nutritional value of Okra
Besides being low in cholesterol and saturated fat, okra is also a low calorie vegetable. As mentioned above, it is a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Okra contains high amounts of vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B6. Eating okra can provide you with good amounts of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, and selenium. The pods are also abundant in flavonoids like beta-carotene, lutein and xanthein that have potent antioxidant properties.
Health benefits of Okra
Okra may not be one of your favorite vegetables but given the immense nutritional, medicinal and health benefits it offers, you definitely may want to include them in your diet. Some of the health benefits of okra are explained below:
Benefits of Okra for skin
Okra is high in vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy skin. The various other nutrients contained in this vegetable helps in repairing the body tissues and also in promoting the formation of collagen. This helps in keeping your skin looking younger, healthier and vibrant. The antioxidants in okra prevent free radical damage to your cells, thus slowing down the process of aging. As a result, it prevents the formation of wrinkles, fine lines and keeps your skin flawless.
Benefits of Okra for health
Did u know that okra is a wonderful remedy to tame your coarse and distressed hair? Boiling okra in water forms transparent mucilage which can be applied on your hair as a conditioner. It makes your hair smooth, bouncy and easily manageable. Okra is also a great moisturizer that helps in keeping your hair hydrated and in getting rid of conditions like itchy scalp and dandruff.
Okra aid digestive system
Okra contains plenty of dietary fiber that promotes digestion and normalizes bowel movements. By adding bulk to the stools, this vegetable helps in preventing conditions like constipation. The vitamin A in okra helps in maintaining the health of the mucous membrane, which in turn promotes the optimal functioning of the digestive system.
Okra cures ulcers
The slimy mucilage produced by okra is alkaline in nature and helps in neutralizing the acids in the digestive tract by forming a protective coating over the tract. This helps in speeding up the healing of stomach ulcers.
Okra promotes weight loss
Okra is considered to be one of the best vegetables for weight loss because it is low in calories and high in dietary fiber. It also does not contain any kind of unhealthy saturated fats. The fiber in okra helps you feel fuller for longer hours, thus satiating your appetite and preventing the need for snacking in between meals and overeating.
Okra and treatment of diabetes
Okra is found to be helpful in preventing diabetes due to its high fiber content. It is a great food option for people with diabetes as the fiber helps in controlling the blood sugar level by inhibiting the absorption of sugar.
Benefits of Okra during pregnancy
Nutritionists often recommend okra to pregnant women because of the presence of folic acid in it. Folic acid is important for preventing neural tube defects in the fetus.
Okra relieves asthma
Okra is an excellent source of vitamin C and studies reveal that this vitamin may aid in reducing wheezing in children and even in older people. The regular consumption of okra could thus be helpful in releiving respiratory problems like asthma in children as well as in adults.
Okra boosts immunity
Okra is an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps in improving your immune system, thereby fighting off disease causing microbes.
Okra lowers cholesterol
The high levels of fiber in okra help in lowering cholesterol. Okra contains soluble fiber pectin, which binds to cholesterol in the intestine, thus aiding its easy removal from your body along with other wastes. Okra, being a low cholesterol food can be included in your regular diet as it does not contribute to overall levels of cholesterol. Okra contains phytosterols that are also considered to play a role in reducing the cholesterol levels. Furthermore the vitamin C in okra helps in converting cholesterol to bile acids. It also inhibits oxidation of cholesterol, thus preventing its build up in arteries and blood vessels.
Okra protects your heart
Okra protects your cardiovascular system mainly by lowering cholesterol and by lowering blood pressure. While the high amount fiber helps in reducing cholesterol, the high levels of potassium in this amazing vegetable helps in neutralizing the effects of sodium, thereby keeping your blood pressure under check.
Okra and cancer cure
Studies reveal that okra caused significant slowing down of the growth of human breast cancer cells and it also helped in stimulating cell death. The high levels of antioxidants in okra fights against the harmful free radicals and prevents oxidation stress and mutation of cells. The high fiber content helps in removing toxic wastes and in combating colon cancer by keeping the digestive system healthy and functioning properly.
Okra prevents anemia
Okra contains nutrients like folate and iron that helps in increasing the production of red blood cells and in preventing anemia in both children and adults.
Okra improves eye health
Vitamin A and beta carotene are two important nutrients present in okra that promote good eye health and vision. These vital nutrients also play a key role in preventing eye problems like cataracts, macular degeneration and other age related eye disorders.
Okra for healthy bones and teeth
Okra contains vitamins like folate, Vitamin K and vitamin C that are associated with maintaining strong bones and teeth. While vitamin C is involved in repairing cartilage, tissues, bones, ligaments and tendons, vitamin K plays a key role in stimulating the process of calcium binding in the bones. Okra is also rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus that help in strengthening your bones and in preventing conditions like osteoporosis.
Okra protects your kidneys
According to a medical study conducted in the year 2005, people who consumed okra regularly had lower chances of developing kidney disease. This study also reveals that, eating okra on a regular basis helps to lessen the medical signs associated with kidney damage. This medicinal property is of great significance to people suffering from diabetes since they are considered to be at a greater risk of developing kidney diseases.
Energy boost by Okra
The high amounts of nutrients in okra helps in boosting your energy and in overcoming weakness, exhaustion and fatigue. These nutrients also help in keeping your nervous system healthy and in reducing stress, depression and anxiety.
Okra maintains pH balance in the body
Being highly alkaline in nature, okra is useful in neutralizing the acids and in maintaining normal pH balance in the body.
Selection and storage of okra
When selecting okra, always look for the ones that are bright green in color without any cuts, blemishes or bruises. It should be firm but not too hard. After buying, keep them in a plastic bag and refrigerate. This way, it will keep for 4 or 5 days. For storing okra for a longer period of time, first blanch them and keep them in the freezer.
Risks associated with eating okra
Just like most other vegetables, okra consumed in its natural state is extremely nutritious and is not likely to cause any kinds of adverse effects. Although okra is not high in oxalates it does contain moderate amounts of this substance. Therefore, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, for a person who is susceptible to oxalate kidney stones, the intake of too much okra is likely to make the symptoms get even worse.
Okra is considered to have been used in many traditional recipes in different parts of India, Asia, Africa, Mediterranean countries and the Middle East for several thousands of years. History has it that the most beautiful Cleopatra of Egypt had a big liking for okra and used to eat it daily probably because she believed that this super food would cleanse her system, increase her skin health and beauty and above all improve her overall health. Okra is gaining considerable popularity nowadays because of its numerable health benefits. Make sure to reap these benefits by making okra a part of your regular diet.Image Credits: Flickr - Natalie Maynor